I Love Transit! Camp 2015

Last September 4th, right as I kicked off my return to grad school, I took part in Translink’s Adult “I Love Transit” Camp 2015. You can see the Buzzer’s article on the camp here. They have much nicer photos than I do.

As part of I Love Transit Week, the “camp” was a tour of the Burnaby Transit Centre and the nearby Translink print shop and bus repair area. The event was a public outreach event combined with a small focus group on the incoming Compass cards. There was also a kid’s camp which was also able to visit Skytrain Operations as well. If anyone wants to lend me a kid to chaperone next year, I would love to do that.

Bus with label "Special"

The bus that picked our group up.

On of the best parts of this trip was being picked up in a bus labeled “Special” from the SkyTrain station. Everyone got a seat and then we got some amazing swag: a I <3 Transit bag, a I Love Transit Camp shirt, some other small things and even a special day pass just for the camp! Being a sustainable transportation nerd, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I think everyone on the bus was feeling the same.

Once we started moving, the Buzzer staff gave us the run down for the afternoon and politely let us know that union rules prevented us from taking pictures of employees in the centre. So although there’s no pictures of them, they were very friendly!

A picture of the bus depot's repair area.

Inside the overhaul area.

The Transit Centre was a huge facility and we were able to see where buses were built, overhauled and repaired. I was impressed by how much space was devoted to fixing or building smaller parts for the buses, as a cost saving measure. The mechanics doing day to day repairs on the buses were friendly and let us walk on the platforms that were created to fix any problems on the roof of a bus.

A view of the top of a Translink Bus.

An uncommon view of a bus. The person standing on it is a Translink employee.

Then we took a quick break to do a trivia quiz and focus group on the new Compass cards. The group was pretty diverse and it was interesting to hear what was confusing people about the cards.

One little tidbit, the same card technology that is powering compass is also used in other cities, but they are able to tap the card through bags and purses. As you’ve likely noticed, our card readers are not very sensitive and Compass cards need to be alone to tap.

T-shirt displayed.

My new favourite shirt and I.

Making the readers less sensitive is a deliberate decision by Translink to promote “good swiping” habits and encourage riders to remember to swipe and check the swipe worked. I can see the logic. I’m reading into what the Translink staff said, but I’ve outlined why they might be doing this here.

Scenario: A rider swipes their card while it is still in their purse when they exit the SkyTrain, which they take once or twice a week. One day, their phone blocks their card and they don’t notice. They are charged for a full 3 zones. What do they do if Translink won’t refund it? A) Realize they made a mistake and remind themselves and their friends to be careful OR B) Call a local newspaper to complain, rage on facebook and demand City Council do something about Translink mismanagement. Remember, its Vancouver. The answer is of course “B.” So, of course Translink is going to make it hard for us to miss a swipe. Congratulations Vancouver, we are why we can’t have nice things.

Next, we saw the upholstering shop where the bus seats are created by just four or five people. I wish I could have gotten pictures of the big guys comfortably working at sewing machines, but alas, the picture rule. Instead, please enough a picture of enough seats to fill a bus.

Picture of seat cushions stacked in warehouse.

Need a seat?

We also got to see the print shop where the metal and paper signage is created. They kept copies of everything they printed, so there were examples of signs going way way way back to when BC Electric owned the transit system. At this point in the day, one of my friends had spotted me on the Buzzer’s Instagram which was pretty funny. I wasn’t even done the tour yet!

I should probably mention at this point that the whole tour was very interesting because we had some very very very big transit nerds on our tour. I think they were in their early twenties, but they already knew every bus model in detail. They even knew the accidents that different buses had been in! They were talking about a wiki at some point, which I think may be this one? I think they were keeping track of every bus number that we rode on. Maybe they were trying to ride them all? It reminded me of the post-war trainspotting in England. (No, not that kind of trainspotting). They asked very detailed questions. I wish I could remember all the answers!

Examples of Tranlink signage.

Did you know Oakridge was once a transit centre?

Overall, it was a great afternoon and I’m glad I skipped the general orientation to grad school. I learned so much about the system on the ground and met some very nice people on the tour and on staff. If you love transit, I would highly suggest applying for camp next year.

I’d like to thank all the Buzzer and Centre staff who made this possible. It was have been much easier, but not necessarily cheaper, to do a simple focus group with a catered lunch. The whole thing was extremely engaging and compelling. I can’t say enough nice things.

Sorry this blog was so long! I just wanted to share everything!

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